• Published 1st Apr 2013
  • 2,386 Views, 17 Comments

Mac's Tale - Sir Barton



Getting their cutie mark is a pivotal moment in every pony's life. How pivotal? This mark is the hinge upon which the doors of destiny swing.

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Unforgotten

Unforgotten

Big McIntosh lay on his side as he watched as his younger sister’s blonde tail vanished into the rows of trees. His head still swam slightly from the sucker punch of a right hoof his sister had blind-sided him with. With a sigh he lay his head back down on the cool ground on the edge of the orchard.

Celestia? Why does AJ have t’ be such a high-strung jenny-ass at times? The big red colt wondered before answering his own question, as he often did. Because she’s so much like Ma, Celestia keep her, that’s why.

It was true, so very true, as the big red work pony rocked onto his back slightly before rolling up onto his haunches. A bolt of pain shot through his left shoulder as his front hoof found the ground, causing Big McIntosh to quickly pull up the offending leg as he sat himself further back on his haunches.

She certainly bucks like Ma. Big Mac mused as he tenderly rubbed his wounded shoulder with the opposite front hoof. He’d already started to roll away from the blow as AJ had landed it. Still, the little pony packed a wallop, as the double-horseshoe shaped welt that was beginning to swell underneath his coat proudly boasted to.

Taking a deep cleansing breath McIntosh let the last of his fury fade into the still surroundings. Inside he felt empty, as he often did, as he took a slow look around, finding the dinner pail and plates where AJ and he had left them. The carrots and sweet potatoes smelled good in the brown onion and mushroom gravy. Even cold.

Mac quickly turned his attentions to the food on the tin plates before unceremoniously sticking his muzzle into the bucket itself to retrieve whatever remained. He could certifiably say this about Applejack; the older of his two younger sisters could definitely cook. It was quite the feather in her hat that none other than Princess Celestia herself had requested that Applejack cater the last royal wedding in Canterlot for Celestia’s own niece, Princess Mi Amore Cadenza.

Uuughhh! The thought of his Applejack and business, it made his mind ache. Dear Celestia, giver of light and warmth, he loved his sister, but the mare at times didn’t have the common sense granted a shovel when it came to business. Bits, it seemed, flowed through that girl’s hooves like water in a sieve.

He could remember the first time Apple Bloom had gone to help AJ run the stall in the market. It had been a total loss. Three bushels of apples given away for the misdeed of a overly enthusiastic raw filly. Mac groaned at the math. Weight, times count, divided by rate per bit, less what was sold prior to the debacle, was a net loss of 284 bits! Fancy math nothing, it was simple math, not long term commodities futures. Granny Smith had just about had a coronary when Applejack had explained what had happened.

Regrettably, it had fallen to him to carry out Granny’s passed sentence of a right whoopin’ with a hickory switch. The old Apple family matriarch was getting a little long in the tooth, and short in the giddy up, to be swinging the switch with enough emphasis to make her point.

AJ had been stoic about the whole thing when they’d reached the barn, and he had tried to explain the business end of things. Somehow it had been like Twilight explaining magic to a mule. AJ had finally just draped herself over a bale in frustration and bit her own tail insisting on just getting the whole thing over with, thick headed girl.

What had hurt more was that Apple Bloom had insisted that she accept ‘her share of the blame.’ Since as she saw it, it wasn’t right for Applejack to take all the blame for something she hadn’t started. Sweet girl, hard headed, stubborn, sweet girl. AJ and himself had, of course, tried to talk Apple Bloom out of it. But stubborn like her sister, the little filly had none of it. It hurt to have to lay hickory to Apple Bloom in the end, if only just a couple of whacks. AJ got proportionally more for her part in the folly.

McIntosh had to hand it to his sister for charm though. AJ was a right good and friendly salesmare when it came to market day, far better than he could fare. Socially she seemed pretty well grounded too. Interesting group of friends she had for sure. He thought it was just dandy that Celestia had invited all six of them to Canterlot for he Grand Galloping Gala the first year Twilight had been in Ponyville.

Dang idjit! Mac cursed mentally to himself. His sister gets invited to the Grand Galloping Gala. A swanky, fully catered, society function, and what does she do? She packs up a carnival concession cart and proceeds to waste her evening and merchandise on trying to compete with the Canterlot Royal Kitchens! Oh, and she was charging concession rates, where as the Gala’s buffet was Free for pony’s sake! Nuts! Go. Socialize. Make business contacts with members of the equestrian business community. Don’t try and out hospitality the hosts to honk your own horn. That’s just plain rude!

Licking his muzzle as he pulled it from the dinner pail he had to hand it to his sister she could cook. Business, nope, but cook, rope, jump, herd, haul, organize, she could do it. Often what AJ was good at set Mac’s mind to wondering why she hadn’t become a professional rodeo pony?

He had been thoroughly impressed with her showing at the Equestrian National Rodeo, even if she wasn’t. Heck, she had gone into hiding and taken a job at a cherry orchard, over not being able to keep her promise of using her rodeo winnings to help fix up town hall. Still to have place top four in every event, even if she placed no higher than second. By his figuring she had to have just missed the overall title, he was sure of that.

Ma would have been so proud of her. Mac ruminated. Their mother had been a professional rodeo pony before she broke her leg during a rodeo in Ponyville. She’d met their father while recuperating from the injury. She’d been staying in the spare room at Sweet Apple Acres, since Ponyville Hospital had been overwhelmed by a severe outbreak of feather flu and was running short on beds. Smitten, she’d left the rodeo circuit and stayed with Pa on the farm.

A spasm on pain in his left shoulder reminded the big pony that his sister could buck too. Amazing for filly who had been such a prissy thing, wanting to play princess and such. She always wanted to hear about Ma’s fillyhood in Manehatten, and about high society life. But that was before … Mac sighed at the memory, Ma and Pa had died.

Placing the plates in the lunch pail, Mac replaced the lid, and turned back to look at the Everfree Forest. The tattered face of the ridge seemed to sneer down at those in the orchard below it. A jagged, shattered sneer of broken teeth of rock and tree trunk. A sick twisted sneer of some vulgar nightmare that was making fun of his pain.

* * * * *

“I finally got the princesses off to sleep.” The light sandy-orange mare said as she trotted down the stairs and into the family room. She was a well built if slightly light pony as befitting a former rodeo competitor. Her accent carried a bit of southern rural equestrian in it, but its owner’s Manehatten roots were betrayed by the well-spoken nature of the voice. “They just had to hear ‘The Little Tree’ one more time.”

“A’right.” Came the firm, yet cheery, baritone reply of the light oak brown pony standing by the kitchen table. Apple Ridge was not the largest stallion by a given margin, but still a goodly sized individual. A lifetime spent working the orchards and fields of Sweet Apple Acres had kept him in solid form. “Rain’s stopped, an’ I’m gonna go check the orchards f’r root rot ‘fore turnin’ in. Y’ wan’ t’ come ‘long?”

“I sure do, hon.” The mare replied before looking about.

Spying what she was looking for, she trotted into the family room to where a writing desk sat wedged into one corner. A scrawny red colt with an unruly mop of orange purporting itself to be a mane sat below a bright coal oil lamp, attention fixed on a tome spread before him.

“Would you like to come with us Mackie?”

The slightly built scarlet colt who had been watching the whole exchange out the corner of his eye, now swiveled his head up to look at his mother. “No ma’am. 'Uncle' Fil' was kind enough to lend me this here book, and I’d like much to finish it before the weekend.”

Mackie watched as his mother reached over and half closed the book so she could see the cover and title: An Economy in Bits: a guide to advanced equestrian economics by Win, Place, and Show. Published by the Canterlot Commerce Secretariat. The mare’s brow furrowed like a tilled field under a yellow-green mane she kept in a tight bun secured with a big red bow. It was as if she was asking why her son didn’t have a cutie mark in finance or something. Her husband’s best friend, Filthy Rich was the only other pony she knew who would have bothered to read a book like that. Him, and her father J.C. Orange, Manehatten stockbroker.

“Oh c’mon boy.” The colt’s father cajoled from where he stood waiting by the door, “Fil’ ain’t gonna mind if y’ don’t finish that book right this week. It took him pret’ near two months t’ chaw through that thing. Now scoot y’r caboose! Bits ‘round here starts at the roots an’ I mean t’ go check on them right pronto. Granny Smith is up a stairs knittin’ and c’n look after y’r sisters if there’s anything’s needin’.”

Mackie sighed and looked at his mother with the big green eyes that in combination with his red coat had gotten him named McIntosh. He’d inherited the eyes from his mother, as well as the puppy dog look he now used with them.

“Oh for Celestia’s sake Ridge, let the boy be. He’s happy with his book and it’s almost time for him to go to bed anyway.” Mackie smiled at his mother’s acquiescence. True, another half an hour and he’d put himself to bed, but that would be eight to ten pages farther along in his reading.

“Alright Bloom. Leave him be. I wanna check the drainage out toward granddad’s walnut grove before we loose all light.” Orange Bloom leaned in and kissed her eldest on the forehead before trotting over to join her husband to check the property as he plucked a beaten brown Stetson from its peg near the door, plopping it onto his head.

“Aw fingle fangle,” Apple Ridge cussed lightly as the soggy Stetson dripped all over his rust-red mane as he reluctantly hung the beaten old chapeau back on its peg, “I’ll wind up getting wetter wearin’ this than not.”

“Oh Ridge.” Giggled his wife as she rubbed necks with him by the door.

As the two ponies exited the barn-house Mackie took a last look at his parents, their cutie marks evident as they walked out the door. A proud apple tree stood out on his father’s flank, an orange blossom looped in a lariat for his mother.

Alone now with his book, Mackie returned to reading, beginning the next chapter: Agromomics: the roots of the economy. The crimson colt blinked for a second or two at the title of the chapter.

‘Bits ‘round here starts at the roots.’ That’s what his father had just said. Sitting there at the desk, he turned the problem over in his head, practical knowledge. Yes, that was it! Practical knowledge is what his father had offered him. The young colt could have facehoofed, how could he have missed it. Carefully closing the book, Mackie slid the tome to the back of the desk and closed the roll top before trotting quickly out the door to find his parents.

Practical knowledge. By Celestia he was going to pay more attention to what his father said from now on. It was a moment of epiphany for him and he could hardly wait to tell his parents about it as he trotted down the path into the orchard.

* * * * *

McIntosh picked up the tin pail by its handle and slowly walked into the darkened orchard. The path he chose wasn’t one to lead him back towards his home and his sisters. AJ, most likely, was wont to be mighty tissed at him still, and that wouldn’t do well.

Fluttershy, on the other hoof, once she got over her initial startling of having unexpected visitor in the late evening, would be able to see to his shoulder and let him crash on her couch for the night. It was odd, he mused, the number of nights he had spent on the pink maned, butter-yellow pegasus’s couch was probably the source of several rumors ‘round town. He had told Cheerilee about it after the ‘Hearts and Hooves Day Incident’ and she agreed, having a medically able pony that close was a benefit considering his occupation, and his two sisters.

As he walked away, his sore shoulder gave a throb of pain with each step he took, though not as much as his heart. Part of him would always remain in the place he was now leaving, just like his parents’ ghosts. He could still hear the echoes of the hoof-falls of a little colt through the trees.

* * * * *

“Ma? Pa?”

The little red colt had hesitated slightly when he’d heard voices further up in the orchard. He thought he heard his father arguing with some pony but he couldn’t be certain. Who else would be out here with his parents? It didn’t sound like anypony he knew.

He could almost see the edge of the orchard up ahead. He knew he was near the edge because that’s where the trees changed from apple to walnut, great-granddad’s walnut grove.

Then he heard something that made him stop cold. It sounded like a sharp wet thump. The kind of thump like when Pa had him practice bucking against a big bag of wet sand. Then he heard Pa yell Ma’s name, and then Ma screaming.

The little colt swallowed hard one front hoof stepping back. Something wrong was going on here. Every fiber of his being told him that, told him to go away as he took another step back. Then he heard Ma scream again. This time it was Pa’s name she was screaming.

RUN! The thought flashed through the narrow colt’s mind, and he did. Only it was not the direction he wanted to. Instead he ran towards the noise, yelling as he came. Yelling out for his parents.

As reached the edge of the tree line where the orchard gave way to a short clearing between great granddad’s walnut grove and the Everfree Forest he could see Ma lying on her side near the base of a rise that grew up from the edge of the forest like a sharp sloped hill, it’s face of green wrinkled and saggy from all the rain. Pa was on the top of the rise fighting with another pony.

From where he stood, the little red colt could see his father was fighting with a white pony, an all white earth pony with a long unkempt and mane and tail. The only other bit color the little red colt could distinguish were the white pony’s eyes, those were bright pink with a touch of red, maybe. There were no other colors he could make out. The other pony didn’t even seem to have a cutie mark … his flank was blank! The white pony was an albino! He remembered it from a book in the town library.

The little colt knew his Pa was a strong pony, one of the strongest in all Ponyville. But this other pony was as big as Pa, and faster it seemed. Every time Pa reared and lunged the other pony would wheel away and come back at Pa from the side, lunging at Pa’s foreleg and Pa would have to half hop to keep his footing. Again and again the two pony stallions repeated the lunge-wheel-lunge-hop dance as the evening air turned cold and the wind picked up off the Everfree Forest.

As the colt slowly made his way to where his mother lay moaning on her side occasionally lifting her head to look up at the top of the rise before flopping back with a yelp of pain, it happened.

The white stallion changed his target. Instead of lunging for Pa’s front leg that Pa kept easily hopping over the advance, the white pony lunged for Pa’s rear leg this time. Pa though, had already begun to lift his weight from his front hooves and the move for his rear leg sent him off balance. Mackie watched as his father fell heavily on his opposite side against a large protruding rock near the lip of the rise.

As the little red colt watched, transfixed, as his father fell heavily on the crest of the rise, he saw the sodden turf face wrinkle more. It was as if the ground was getting crosser with the horseplay going on atop it. Some small saplings that clung to the slope there were now starting to tilt from their roots. But the discontent of the ridge seemed distant to the little colt, for as his father went down the white pony rose.

Rearing to his full height, the white pony slammed his front hooves down onto Pa’s barrel. The sound of the impact impressed itself into the colt’s mind. It was a sickening wet popping crunching noise like balloons bursting in an old cider barrel as it broke. A pink cloud shot from Pa’s muzzle, and McIntosh’s gut seized up at the sight as the white pony reared screaming, and hammered down on Pa again.

“RIDGE!”

His mother’s frantic crazed scream cut through all thought as the blank flanked stallion jacked into Pa for a third time. How much had Ma seen he didn’t know, but the rise had had enough. As the white pony’s third slamming blow cashed into Pa’s body, the front face of the rise buckled and slid.

It was as if the ground itself had been hurt and started to cry. A huge dirty tear seemed to start from below the rock Pa lay against and rolled toward the base near the orchard, and then another, and another. Soon the whole front of the rise gave way in a cascade of tearing turf and tumbling stone. Pa’s body slipped from where it had lay on the large rock and joined the detritus tumbling down the slope and the rock soon followed tumbling down after Pa. The albino pony stumbled back as the earth gave way into the mudslide, toppling from view beyond the crest of the ridge, into the Everfree Forest.

If the tumult of the cascading rise made any noise at all McIntosh couldn’t hear it. All he could hear was the grieving wail of his mother as her emotional world collapsed on her. When the earth stopped moving Pa was nowhere to be seen.

McIntosh approached his mother carefully. Where she had been laying near the base of the rise had been on the edge of the collapse. His mother’s legs were buried from halfway down the flank but her barrel, head, and forelegs were uncovered and he could hear her sobbing as he came closer.

“Momma?” his voice cracked with heavy emotion as he called to his mother. “Momma, are you alright?”

“Mackie?” the orange mare’s voice hovered somewhere between panic and uncertainty. “Mackie is that you?”

“Yes.”

“Run Mackie, don’t let him get you.” His mother blurted.

“I think he ran off when the hill fell, I don’t see him no more.” Mac tried to reassure his remaining parent. It was as much for himself as anything, he hadn’t seen ‘the Albino’ since the mudslide had ended at the least.

“Mackie, you’ve got to go.” His mother implored him with an unusual calm growing in her voice.

“But Momma, I can’t leave you here. I have to help you.”

In his head he was busily trying to decide if he should try to dig her out, or if he should even try to move her at all. His mother told different though.

“Yes you can Mackie.” His mother told him, as she looked at him with her gentle emerald eyes. “You have to leave me now. I’ll be all right. You have to be a big pony now and go get help, okay? Can you be ‘big’ McIntosh?”

“Yes Momma, I can.”

A soft light shone in the clearing, a pale greenish white glow, centered somewhere behind him. He had seen the glimmer in his mother’s eyes as she finished speaking.

“Look Mackie,” his mother’s voice buoyed up, but had becoming unnervingly quieter over the last few moments. He had no way of knowing that the kick she had taken from ‘the Albino’ had shattered a kidney and she was bleeding profusely inside because of it, “you've gotten your cutie mar……”

“Momma?” ‘Big’ McIntosh turned away from where he had been looking at the big green apple, cross cut to show the seeds, that now decorated his once blank red flanks, back to his mother who had become oddly still, having not finishing her sentence, her eyes now closed.

“Momma?!” he was getting panicked now. Where was he supposed to go for help?

High in the sky lightning flashed as a fresh set of storm clouds slid in from over the Everfree Forest, casting an unearthly knowing light in the small clearing as cold reality dropped on the little red colt with the rain. His parents were dead. He had just watched his parents die and gotten his cutie mark for it. The howl of grief stricken realization was lost in the booming roll of the thunder, like his teardrops in the rain as he crumpled to the ground next to his mother.